Review: 'American Auto' relies on strong cast to power through

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

“American Auto” is a smooth if silly ride.

It’s not turbo-powered, in high gear, pedal-to-the metal or any of the other car phrases writers will be tempted to use. It is instead a basic workplace comedy that veers toward the absurd. 

Tye White as Jack and Harriet Dyer as Sadie in the pilot of "American Auto."

In the course of its first two episodes it deals with a racist driverless car, a homophobic widow, an O.J.-style car chase and the difference between serial killers and mass murderers. The zingers come fast while any engagement with reality is loose.

Ana Gasteyer stars as Katherine Hastings, a high powered CEO who’s made the unlikely jump from a successful drug company to the top of Payne Motors in beautiful Detroit. Katherine knows nothing about cars – she doesn’t even drive – but how different can they be from pills?

Immediately upon arrival she faces a crisis: Turns out the driverless car the company is about to announce can’t see dark colors. That includes dark people. Oops.

“American Auto” relies on the eternal and potentially valid belief that people at the top everywhere are amoral nincompoops. So instead of being a workplace comedy about the common folk, it’s mostly a workplace comedy about their clueless overlords. It’s “Veep” at a car company.

You could do worse. The cast is strong and the characters become clear in the opening episodes. Jon Barinholtz plays a member of the founding Payne family as an entitled nitwit while Tye White is Jack, a mechanic Katherine elevates to the high echelon to get some blue collar perspective. Also, he’s Black and that driverless car hit him.

Early episodes are a bit loose, but creator Justin Sptizer knows workplace comedies, having worked on “The Office” before creating “Superstore.” He’ll likely tinker under the hood and get this show tuned up.

OK, car cliches were inevitable.

“American Auto”


8 p.m. Tuesday